Next up in our Heroes & Villains series: James Reed.
More often than not, Reed is painted as a villain. There are some justifiable reasons for this. I’m going to list some of them below. But as you’ll see—I think he’s another complicated character. We just can’t put him in a good guy/bad guy box.
He was rich. It is so easy to hate Montgomery Burns, isn’t it? But can we blame Reed for having a double decker “palace car” wagon especially made? Yes, it was larger and more obnoxious than everyone else’s. It needed double the oxen to pull it. (And this likely inconvenienced others as the group would often take turns helping each wagon over hills and the like.) But remember that his very ill mother-in-law started out the trip with them—confined to her bed. (She died along the way.) Can we fault him for wanting her to be comfortable?
He killed John Snyder. True story. Not looking good for James Reed. But we don’t have a clear accounting of what happened in this argument. Was John beating Reed’s oxen? John had been characterized as having a quick temper. And the notion that Mrs. Reed might have intervened, Snyder striking her in the process, does make the idea of Mr. Reed using a knife to defend himself easier to understand…
What’s clear is that he wasn’t well-liked among the party, though it’s hard to parse out how much of that might have been jealousy.
I think the clearest strike against him might be how long it took him to return for his family after he was banished. I know he was cold, starved, ill, sick, and needed time to heal. I also know he couldn’t find men to recruit to go with him because of the war with Mexico. But while he was waiting for all this, he managed to go fight a bit in that war and even buy some land for his family while he was there.
This is just difficult to swallow.
Again, I think James Reed is an example of a character who is neither villain nor hero. Just a person like all of us. Trying to do what he thought best for himself and his family.